This isn’t the first Don’t I came up with nor do I consider it the most important. But I do think it is a good place to start my blog journey because, although I will try to convince you of my position in these posts, I don’t want you to believe me. Seriously. What I want you to do is think about what you’re reading. I want you to Google the topic and maybe read a book. Attend a seminar given by an expert on the topic. Take a short online course. (LinkedIn has some pretty good, inexpensive courses on many topics.) I don’t want to be a thought leader; I want to be a thought instigator. In short, I don’t want you to believe it just because you read it or because someone said it, but because you’ve convinced yourself that it is true.
Consider your political beliefs. Why do you believe what you do? Is it based on facts, research, and unbiased observation or just on feelings? Do you just “know” certain things to be true? Or perhaps you rationalize that it must be true because your favorite talking head keeps repeating it. (Studies show that repetition leads to belief even when it isn’t true. This is called the illusory truth effect. Look it up.) Do you ever look into it further? And I don’t mean getting your bias confirmed by seeking another source with the same bias. There was a great commercial a while back where the theme was “it was on the internet, so it must be true”. In one segment a beautiful woman goes on a date with a man with an online profile where he claims to be a French model. He wasn’t French. Or a model. News flash: sometimes people don’t get it right. Perhaps they just made an honest mistake. Unfortunately, sometimes people don’t know what the heck they’re talking about, or they just flat out lie! Bring some healthy skepticism to the table.
Unchallenged beliefs can be really bad for business and other types of projects. Groupthink is the ailment that comes to mind in this context. Groupthink is where a bunch of like-minded individuals sit in a room and agree (i.e. believe) that they are all correct. They don’t question the data, results, or interpretations. In fact, they probably already had their minds made up before the data was even shown. The meeting is just a formality and a chance to self-congratulate. There are a few historical disasters that have occurred because of this. One that comes to mind is the Space Shuttle Columbia explosion. In this case, some data was even suppressed because it didn’t fit the paradigm of what they chose to believe. The great tragedy here was that this could have been avoided if the need to believe in the prevailing viewpoint was not so strong.
Some words of caution. I’m certainly not recommended that you tell everyone you interact with that you don’t believe them, because they are most likely trying to communicate honestly and accurately. And no one likes the person that ALWAYS responds with “Let me tell you why that won’t work”. Don’t be an insufferable know-it-all. Be a little more diplomatic when you don’t believe something, but feel it is important that you convince others of your stance. Sometimes, if you ask the right questions, you can steer them toward your viewpoint. This isn’t a manipulation tactic, rather just a great way to get them to recognize flaws in their argument on their own. Also, choose not to believe because you want to get to the truth, not because you want to discount the source because it doesn’t fit your current worldview as they did in Space Shuttle Columbia example above.
For me, “don’t believe” is just a reminder to engage my critical thinking skills. It isn’t that I am truly skeptical of everything that I hear or read, but I try to never accept blindly what I can easily verify with another trusted source. This is a standard technique in science, quality system auditing, and detective work. (I’ve been a scientist and an auditor but not a detective. I just like a good detective show.) A good scientist doesn’t claim a new discovery based on a single experiment. If the answer is true, it should be repeatable. When auditing, after interviewing an employee it is common practice to say “show me”. Basically, you are asking for proof of what you were just told. In your average detective show, the investigator always tries to find additional evidence that corroborates (i.e. supports) statements from witnesses. Avoiding blind belief and Groupthink is a great way to avert potential disasters in all areas of personal and business life. I encourage you to give it a try.
I don’t think blog posts are supposed to be this long, so I’m going to stop now. Please forgive me for a bit of meandering. After all, this is my first post. I’ll try not to apologize for length every time.